Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Loo-Roll Woman & Tricia

Yesterday a lady came storming into the store, went to the kiosk and demanded to speak to a manager at once. She was carrying an opened pack of Charmin toilet paper, with one roll missing, under her arm and looked like she really meant business.

Gina didn't argue with the lady and called a manager to the kiosk. I happened to be nearby when Robert arrived to handle the situation. When I heard what followed, it made me very glad that I hadn't jumped in and tried to help...

"I was in here doing my shopping last week and I put into my trolley a 12-pack of Andrex bathroom tissue - the one I always buy."

"Uh-huh," Robert went along with the story.

"As I did so, a man in a shirt and tie approached me and said, 'do you know that the Charmin is on promotion? Same size pack, half the price' and proceeded to force me into putting the Andrex back and buying this!"

She was clearly referring to Terry. He's always stalking the customers, watching what they buy and talking them into getting the special offers.

Robert continued to nod along whilst, in the background, I made an effort to look busy so I could listen to the rest of this encounter.

"Well, I got it home, used it and I was very annoyed to find it's the shoddiest variety of bathroom tissue I've ever had the misfortune to use!"

I was already smirking away to myself at the way she said 'bathroom tissue' rather than loo-roll. Perhaps she felt better about standing in the middle of a supermarket ranting and raving about the stuff if she didn't refer to it as bog roll.

"Oh I see," said Robert, "What appears to be the problem with it?"

"It has a very rough texture and it's flaked everywhere, all over my bathroom!"

I ducked under the kiosk counter to have a good giggle to myself. I mean, honestly! If you were so peeved off about a pack of loo-roll, you'd return it and pretend the sheets were splitting or something; save yourself at least some embarrassment. She might just as well have brandished it in Robert's face and screamed: "It's like wiping my arse with sandpaper!"

When I first started at Food Place, there was a lady on the checkouts called Tricia. I didn't really see much of her - at the time I worked around my school hours and she mostly worked mornings. I'd actually completely forgotten about her existence until Susan, the new woman on the tills, mentioned her today.

Susan said: "do you remember that woman on the tills here that used to be so unbelievably slow, it looked as though she was about to stop?"

I had a think about it and Susan helped me along with a description before I finally placed this woman as Tricia. Susan was laughing away to herself as she did humorous demonstrations of how Tricia used to work. By the end of it I was peeing myself laughing - but I think that had more to do with me being extremely tired. I tend to react quite hysterically to the slightest amusement when I'm tired.

Basically, Tricia was so slow that it could only have been deliberate. Nobody could ever work at a pace like that naturally and she certainly didn't dawdle around when it came to home-time.

She would turn to the conveyor belt. Examine the items nearest to her. Carefully select one. Inspect it very intently, taking so long that she almost had time to read the complete ingredients list of the product. Turn the product around to look for the barcode. Grip the item with both hands. Present it to the scanner. Shake it around a bit if it didn't swipe first time. Listen for the bleep. Carefully pass the item to the waiting customer. Repeat the process.

It's very likely that readers won't see the humour in this. You have to have seen this woman in action to realise why she was so funny.

It was partly to do with her mannerisms and facial expressions. Her eyes were always narrowed to slits and she would move her gaze, slowly of course, around the area. She would always be chewing gum - but very very slowly. Grinding it in her mouth - combined with her general lack of haste, to look at her you could almost believe your vision had switched to slow-motion mode. And she never laughed. If a customer made a small-joke to her, she would stick on a wide grin and loll her head from side to side - as though simulating laughter.

Not content with reminiscing about this character, we proceeded to do impressions of her. We all sat ourselves on tills, dying for the next customer to arrive. Just so we could serve them Tricia-style. I found it impossible - I just could not go that slowly! And I ended up bursting out laughing in a customer's face and having to spend the rest of the transaction apologising and murmuring that "something tickled me earlier".

That's what the monotony of working at Food Place does for you.

Friday, August 24, 2007


This is a landmark post. It's going to be the first blog entry I have made that directly criticises Food Place management. I'm perfectly aware that if the Food Place mafia (the security staff) ever read this blog entry, they'll know instantly that this blog is about our company. But I'm confident that I've been vague enough about my location that it can never be traced to me.


The New Time Management System
On September 23rd, a new system will 'go live' in all Food Place stores across the country that manages the working hours of staff. It's, basically, an upgrade of the system we already use that will tighten the grip the company has on how much it pays us - and when I say tighten, it beggars belief just how strict they are proposing to become. And I predict mass outrage about it.

The current system involves staff swiping their clock-card on a reader at the start and end of their shifts. The times these swipes are made are then used to calculate our pay. But it's changes to the 'rounding rules' that are going to cause major problems.

At present, we're paid in fifteen minute intervals, which means the system is already rounding-off our swipes. At the moment, the watershed is the midway point. For example:

You're supposed to work 12:00 - 16:00. You swipe on at 11:53 and swipe off at 16:08. The system will recognise you as having worked four and a quarter hours. In actual fact, that's exactly what you have worked, but the system calculates it slightly differently - you don't get paid for the fifteen minutes between 11:45 and 12:00 because you worked less than half of it. But because you worked more than half of the fifteen minutes between 16:00 and 16:15, it will pay you for that.

You can't say fairer than that really. Sometimes you're very slightly short-paid, but other times you're very slightly overpaid. So the overall effect on your take-home pay is minimal.

The new system
The rounding rules have been tightened in such a way that, using the above example, you would only be paid for four hours - despite the fact that you actually worked exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Allow me to elaborate. The new system doesn't have a mid-way cut-off. To be paid for a 15 minute time period, you must work for every second of it. This means that any swipes after 11:45 will round off to 12:00. So let's examine the example again, but with different swipe times.

You swipe on at 11:46 and swipe off at 16:44. This means that you have worked for 4 hours and 28 minutes. Which, to any right-minded person, is four and a half hours. But to the Draconian swipe system, it is four hours! You worked 14 minutes at either side of your scheduled shift, therefore you didn't work for a full 15 minute unit and won't be paid for it.

Similarly, if you swiped off at 15:59, instead of 16:00, you would only be paid until 15:45.

What's right about it?
Before I launch into a tirade about why this is outrageous to me, I should show Food Place the courtesy of making it clear that I can see why they are tightening the rules. At the moment, there's a hell of a lot of employees taking the piss out of them.

When an employee is scheduled to work 12:00 - 16:00, this has been planned so that the employee is there to cover the period when Food Place has recognised there is work for them to do. Some people exploit the current swipe system by swiping in early and swiping off late. The company thus ends up paying lots of employees an extra half an hour each day. Spread over a month, I'm sure the amount of money that canny workers are extracting from the company is huge.

And the majority of those employees practising this method of pay-boosting aren't providing the company with the benefit of more work. Lots of people swipe early and then stand and have a good gossip until the time they're supposed to start. So basically, Food Place is currently paying a lot of people to stand and chat and they're quite right to be pissed off about it.

What's wrong with it?
Basically, they've tipped the scale so far in the other direction that it's going to actually deter people from working. They've gone to the extreme of being so penny-pinching that it only doubles the blow from the insulting rates of pay Food Place offers.

Can you imagine the struggle I'm going to face at busy times on the checkouts? No longer will anybody be willing to stay an extra five or ten minutes to help get the queues down before leaving. And quite rightly. I would refuse too. Why should I stay back to help out if the company isn't going to pay me for it?

Other problems are going to arise when it comes to 'finishing off' after the store closes each night. We currently schedule the evening checkout staff to finish at 22:10. By the old swipe system, this meant they got paid for the tidying-up and cleaning they did. But now, we're either going to have to eat into our stringent labour budget and keep them there until 22:15, or stop expecting them to clean up. I would never continue to ask them to work until 22:10 knowing they would only be paid until 22:00.

Which leads me to the other MAJOR criticism I have.

Food Place seem to be quite keen on keeping this 'migration' -as they're calling it - low-key. They don't want the staff to be formally briefed about it, although they've stopped short of telling us to remain silent. This is despicable. I've already illustrated how easy it will be to lose 15 minutes' pay. All it will take is for somebody to do that three times a week and over the course of a month they've lost 3 hours. To some of our part-timers, that's a whole shift. Some of them perhaps won't notice this - but many will. And it's going to be me that has to give them the bad news:

"Sorry Debbie, over the course of the last pay-month you deprived the company of 12 minutes of productivity by swiping off a minute early to go home. As a result, you've lost three hours from your pay."

Terry's attitude has disgusted me too. He says "bring it on". He's looking forward very much to the 'minute-grabbers' in our store finding their pay smaller than expected. Doesn't it just show that he's paid rather too much? Doesn't he understand? We're talking about people who are paid at just above the National Minimum Wage here. Lots of our staff live in very difficult circumstances. Yes, the system will rightly hit the deliberate con-artists who've been at it for years. But lots of genuinely hard-working staff are going to be short changed!

What about people working overtime to help out at short notice? Go back to my earlier example and imagine that somebody comes in and works 4 hours and 28 minutes to help us out - out of the kindness of their hearts. And the company neglects to pay them for the 28 minutes of honest work they've put in.

It's all wrong. It's far too strict. All it's going to do is cause bitterness, resentment and discourage people from working. If the big bosses view us workers with such contempt that they need to introduce an all-take and no-give system like this, then what hope is there for us? If they get away with this, what will come next? Incidentally, the briefing pack we were sent commented that 'scores of retailers' have already adopted this approach and it's been a resounding success.

Yes. A success for the company as they've cut costs by robbing their staff!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Drama Queens & Corpses

After a reasonably quiet week on the fussy customers front, a lady chose today to table her motion to have our entire product range tweaked to suit her.

The lady in question is a customer who frequents Food Place. She's one of those strange customers that you never know how to take. Some days she appears to be in high spirits and chats away to you like a best-friend. Other days she does nothing but moan; usually about the finer details of her personal life.

This week, the big topic is that she's been diagnosed with diabetes. She's told us all about how she is waiting to find out whether she will have to inject insulin on a daily basis; all about her new diabetic nurse, who's lovely by the way; all about her quest to discover whether she can milk any money out of the government. Well, her words were closer to "this is affecting my quality of life! I might have to stop working, they should be paying me disability."

I felt like slapping her in the face and yelling at her about the four or five diabetic staff we have at Food Place. You didn't hear them moaning for days when they were diagnosed and they aren't screwing it for all it's worth by trying to get out of work and extracting extra benefits.

I digress.

This lady has decided to complain to us, formally, that our product range is not suitable for diabetics. She wrote Terry a snotty letter which went something like this:

Dear Mr Lucas
I am very annoyed that Food Place does not cater for me properly as a registered diabetic [oh, we're keeping a directory of people with blood-sugar disorders now are we?] and here are some examples of this.
  • You stock Dr Pepper full sugar, but not diet
  • You stock cans of full sugar Tango, but not the diet version
  • You don't stock Robinson's Summer Fruits in a low sugar variety

[the list continued ad infinitum] I feel very discriminated against by this stocking policy. Please change matters.

Just who the hell does she think she is? The opening paragraph of her letter suggested that Food Place doesn't cater for diabetics in general. She then moved on to give a list of very specific products that we stock in a standard variety but not a low-sugar variety. So what about the several hundred sub-brands we do stock that are suitable for diabetics?

So basically, Mrs Muck, you're actually saying Food Place is discriminating against diabetics who insist on buying summer fruits squash rather than blackcurrant & apple. Who insist on buying Tango rather than Fanta.

Or, closer to your meaning still, you're moaning that we don't stock a long list of products you want, and using diabetes discrimination as a weapon to get your own way.

Dead Customers

Today we found out a regular customer had died. Paula, who lived on the row of houses opposite Food Place, died of a heart attack aged 52. She wasn't in ill-health and seemed absolutely fine when I spoke to her yesterday morning - only about three hours before her death.

As most people know, a sudden death like that brings some harsh realities home. Any day on this earth could be our last. And what are we doing with our lives? Working in supermarkets. I spent a lot of the day walking around in a little daze thinking about dying and how seemingly random it is. Paula got up yesterday morning and went about her normal daily routines - popping over to Food Place to get something in for her husband's tea before she started work - all for the last time. She might have been worried about a dentist appointment next Wednesday. Or putting off paying a gas bill. And it's all over now.

And death makes people talk. Everybody at work was discussing it today. I was helping Deborah out on the kiosk this afternoon and we got talking about other customers who have died on us. I worked on the kiosk for quite a long time, and if there's anywhere in the store where you get to know the customers, it's there. Mostly because it's the same people coming in for the same products. A lot of the time, I used to find myself subconsciously going to grab a packet of their brand of smokes before they even asked for them. Every now and then, a customer would suddenly stop coming in and you always assumed they'd kicked the bucket.

The most memorable is the one we'd all like to forget about. The customer called Bob who visited the store twice every day - and then died in it. He collapsed in the wines & spirits section, suspected heart attack, and was dead before he even reached the hospital. Strange that I even remember the date - Tuesday 2nd November 2004. My God, it seems like last week! I'm getting old!

Not quite a customer, but linked to the store nonetheless, was a 10-year-old boy called Dylan. His mother was a regular customer who I often spoke to and I remember, vaguely for I was never paying that much attention, she often had her small son with her. He was run down by a truck on the road immediately outside Food Place and three members of our staff were on the scene administering First Aid. That was a terrible week too. The staff involved were deeply disturbed by what they'd seen and the front of the store was covered in floral tributes.

There was a young-ish man who shopped most evenings for odd-bits. I didn't know his name until after he'd died, but he was always chatting away to us. I had no idea he was an infamous criminal until the night he fell through a glass skylight whilst trying to break into a warehouse and plunged 30ft to his death. JPS Lights were taken out of our tobacco range not long after he died because he was the only customer who ever bought them.

Another slightly bizarre one was a young woman who often came in with her father. She was on holiday in Africa and was killed in a safari accident. The local rag never elaborated the details, which is probably a blessing because I don't imagine a safari accident would be very pretty.

There's lots more, but I'm going to stop being morbid now you'll be pleased to learn.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jekyll & Hyde

The Strange Case...
There was a bizarre customer today that seemed to have a split-personality.

She'd gone to Cleo's till just as she was opening it up at the start of her shift. Most supermarket shoppers will know that it can be quite a pain if you've got a big trolley load and you're the first customer there - you don't get time to get everything onto the belt before the action starts.

Seeing that this lady was going to fall behind with the packing, I went over and started bagging things for her whilst she finished putting her shopping onto the conveyor belt. When she'd finished, she seemed delighted at this help:

"Oh my, oh thank you so much! You've made my day!"

She watched me packing for a few moments before suddenly exploding:

"Don't put all that in there! It'll be too heavy and I can't lift it!"

Taken aback, Cleo and I shared a puzzled glance with each other. I don't think the lady noticed this but, nonetheless, she swung back to her former self:

"Oh, how ungrateful of me to complain when you've been so helpful!"

My God! What is this? I was thinking to myself, almost too scared to speak in case she burst into another furious rant. In the event, I didn't need to speak, she did it of her own accord.

"NO! That's still too heavy, I'll never get that into the car!"

Miffed at such ingratitude, I reorganised the bags a little so the weight was more balanced.

"Oh, you're ever so kind, thank you."

But seconds later...

"I'll never get all THIS into the car!"

And then, she flipped back once more...

"Thank you very much. At least I've got a good strong husband at home to help me get it all back out again."

By the end of that encounter, I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Cleo was just as baffled as I was. Perhaps you couldn't appreciate how unnerving this customer was without seeing her. She literally veered between being so smiley and chirpy it was intolerable to being so full of rage and hatred she was shaking and spitting as she yelled. Perhaps she was doing it on purpose to make my day interesting?

Long winded
A customer telephoned the store today and when I answered, I got perhaps the longest query I've ever come across. "Oh, hello, my name's Madeleine Hayes, and I'm just telephoning you because I thought you, or one of you staff, might be able to assist me in discovering whether or not you might sell such a thing as an electrically operated toaster?"

So, basically, "Do you sell toasters?"

I mean, come on! It was as though she was asking for something completely bizarre that she'd never heard of before. Have you ever come across a device for toasting bread that isn't electrically operated? Apart from a spit for holding bread against a fire, I doubt it. And since when was it necessary to formally introduce yourself to shop assistants?

Still, I suppose I shouldn't be complaining because she was, at least, polite about it.

Self-Centred Staff
An incident today has given me the opportunity to have a good old whinge about people who think they're important and should have priority over their colleagues when it comes to booking holidays.

Today's event involved a team member requesting 25th August off as holiday because it's their wedding anniversary. They were told, quite rightly, that two weeks' notice was nowhere near enough and that because so many other staff had already booked holidays over that week, the only way they'd get it off is by asking somebody to swap a shift.

They went off in the huff at this and stomped off to Terry's office to complain. But they didn't just complain about the holidays not being granted. The complaint was made personal towards the supervisor who had refused the holiday request.

Just who do people think they are? It's made perfectly clear in the company induction and in the terms and conditions handbook, issued to all staff, that the company's standard notice period for holidays is three months. In our store, we say give two months' notice to be guaranteed the dates you want. You can ask at shorter notice and you will get the holidays if they're available. If not, tough.

There's just no fairer way of doing it than allocating dates on a first-come-first-served basis. Which is why I got so annoyed at the team member's reaction to being refused. It's not as though they didn't know when their own anniversary was and they should have booked it months ago. It's no good asking for time off when the schedules are already compiled for that week. As it was, that particular week has been booked solid since March.

When this colleague finally found somebody who was willing to swap a shift, they then started moaning that they'd need to get a babysitter for their new shift. Well Christ almighty! Did you want your anniversary off or didn't you!?

Friday, August 10, 2007

My Review & More Kiosk Annoyances

My Review
Was actually quite painless, I'm very pleased to report. For once, Terry managed to keep the whole thing running at just under two hours. That might sound hellish for some people, but believe me, for Terry it's actually quite brief. The last review I had commenced an hour before the end of my shift ("I'm sure we can squeeze it in," he said) - he ended up having to pay me two and a half hours overtime for it!

The main criticism I got from him is one I entirely accept. I don't throw my weight around enough. Perhaps that makes it sound bad, but the way he put it across, it sounded much better. He said something along the lines of: "you're far too willing to accept other people not supporting you like they should and instead of getting mad and putting your foot down, you take on their share of the work and try to do your own as well, which leads to things falling apart occasionally". This is true. It was a bit rich of Terry to point this out, however, considering he's the main culprit for not supporting me. I mentioned this and he accepted that, yes, sometimes he does tend to overlook my department - but he assured me he only did so because he was always so confident that I'm more than capable of managing. Which, I suppose, is nice. In a way.

On the plus side, he had plenty of positive comments to make about how the department is running. He's "over the moon" about the low discrepancy figures and commented that, of all the departments, checkouts and services feels the most upbeat and has the best morale. Which is all down to me and Wendy's hard work. Aww.

The best comment of all was "I think you're easily the most customer-focused person in the store." He elaborated that, throughout his Food Place career, he's always found cash office, personnel and admin people to consider themselves "back of house" and tend to have as little to do with customer service as possible. He said he was surprised, when he came to our store, at how much time I spend on the front-end and how I "never lose sight of the needs of the customers and plan my days to make sure I'm always around the checkouts at the busiest times".

Ironic really that he should say things like that when I actually spend so much time slating the customers on this blog!

I'm surprised I managed to get my head out of the door when he'd finished with all of that praise. I was so pleased to hear things like that. I thanked him for such positive and warming praise but, never missing an opportunity, I pointed out how much better it would make me feel if he told me these things more often.

So, on the whole, it went extremely well. If I've learned anything it's that, in order to get more support from Terry, I need to give the impression that I'm incompetent and need help (tehe, sarcasm).

Kiosk Annoyances Part Two
So after listening to all that praise for how "customer-focused" I am, I went back down the front and spent the last two hours of my shift getting irate with stupid customers.

I jumped onto the kiosk to get the queue down and immediately found another gripe to add to my list in this post. It fits in with a theme I already discussed - requests. Why can't people just ask for what they actually want without muddling the issue? Today, a lady asked for "Twenty Lambert and Butler and twenty Mayfair". So I turned round and grabbed twenty of the standard L&B (in a silver and blue pack) and twenty standard Mayfair (dark blue).

"I don't want those ones, I want menthol!" She snapped after I'd scanned them through the till.

I felt like blasting: "well you didn't ask for menthol did you!?"

Not long after her, another customer arrived that reminded me of another kiosk moan. People who have their own special names for the brand of cigarette they smoke. Names that aren't printed on the packets and have no fathomable origin.

This lady always says, "twenty B&H red please."

I remember the first time I ever served her because I couldn't find what she was looking for. I was thinking to myself I know there's a B&H gold and silver, but red? What makes this lady more annoying is that she's asked for "B&H red" for years now and, every time she gets a new kiosk assistant, she can clearly see that it causes some confusion - because they don't exist! Yet, she doesn't bother to learn the correct name. She actually desires "B&H Superkings" which are just a longer version of "B&H Gold". But she stubbornly persists that they're subranded as "red" when they aren't.

I always, after picking them off the shelf, deliberately say "Twenty Bensons Superkings was it?". She always looks quite annoyed, but she won't be stopped. We've all just got used to her now.

Another regular is the lady who requests, in the poshest voice you could imagine: "twenty Silk Cut silver cigarettes please." I think she believes that smoking Silk Cut Silver puts her a class above other smokers. Curiously though, for somebody who takes such pride in her brand, she's quite shifty. She shoves them straight into a carrier bag and always glances nervously around - probably checking to make sure nobody she knows is watching.

This is a phenomena usually only seen in the younger smokers that you have to ask for proof of age. Their eyes always dart to the back of the queue whenever somebody else joins and you know they're thinking "Oh my God, is that my Auntie Ally, is she gonna see my buy fags?"

Another kiosk moan emerged soon after; people who trespass behind the counter. This was never a problem before as the old kiosk had a huge heavy counter-flap for access. But the new one has a small door on the front next to the lottery terminal and unauthorised, uninvited access is becoming an increasingly frequent event.

Naturally, the Nosey Woman, discussed in this post, is the most frequent offender. Whenever she's paying for lottery, she pushes the little door open and leans over the counter, gawping at what's underneath. I often wonder why she goes to such effort when she could just stand by the wall and get a perfectly clear view of the back-end of the counter.

But there's other unwanted guests. Lots of people now, upon spotting the door, walk through it and start scrutinising the products on the shelves behind the kiosk. Picking up packets of cigarettes and inspecting them. The kiosk staff just ignore them and hope they'll go away, but I barge right at them screaming "I'm sorry, you can't come behind here, staff only! OUT!" Well, maybe not that blunt, but I certainly show them the door!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What a Wonderful Day!

I just cannot believe how well today went!

Maybe it was because I went to bed early last night and woke up feeling utterly refreshed and ready for anything. Maybe everybody else was in a good mood. Perhaps there was something in the air that decided today would be good.

I didn't have any staff moaning at me. The customers were all lovely. Robert, for the first time ever, got through the entire day without upsetting or annoying anybody. Every task I endeavoured seemed to slot very nicely into my day - nothing seemed to eat up too much time.

If only every day could be like that one, I'd be a truly happy person.

Another Retained Card
This morning, Angela got a message on her till that instructed her to retain the customer's credit card. When this happens, as readers will probably know, the retailer is being instructed to withhold the card because the issuer suspects there is something amiss that must be stopped immediately. Well, in theory this is the case. Nine times out of ten, when the customer telephones the card issuer for an explanation, the lying, snivelling little toads will push the blame onto us and tell them "oh, there really is no reason Food Place should have kept your card."

When I was first summoned to today's incident, I was thinking 'oh Christ, here we go, a perfect day ruined!' But the customer couldn't have been more understanding. Their exact words were: "Well, at least it's reassuring to know that the banks are monitoring your cards and they'll pick up on anything fraudulent."

I nearly collapsed and died from shock. I have never known a customer take such a positive outlook on something as unpleasant as having their card snatched from them by a supermarket. The man was so pleasant about it all and I'd really like to thank him. Right here, on this blog. A public thank you message to one of the most surprisingly understanding customers I've ever dealt with.

Ah, on days like these, retail actually seems like a worthwhile occupation.

Performance Review
Tomorrow morning, I have my 6-monthly performance review with Terry. I haven't actually had one of these bi-annual meetings now since last September, but never mind. I'm not exactly devastated that I'm overdue a grilling on my ability to do my job.

Terry is one of those people who can turn a short, snappy, informal procedure into a major operation. He takes 200 words to say what can be said in 20. He poses questions and then rambles on for so long "just giving you a feel" for what he wants to hear, that he answers the bloody question for you. He moves away from the corporate-standard format for the review and adds his own questions. And don't even start me on targets.

The targets he set me last September ranged from the impossible to the downright insulting. Or, in the case of: "I want to see you drive cash discrepancies down to no more than £3 per week", both. I was infuriated that he completely disregarded the progress I'd already made (discrepancies averaging at £7 per week versus £44 under my predecessor) and set me a ridiculous target that worked out at 3p per till per day. Yes, I agree, I would absolutely love to have such small discrepancies all the time and, in fact, we do achieve the £3 figure around 1 week in every 4. But to set it as a benchmark for every week!

Other targets left me rolling my eyes. "Make sure the progress chart for cashiers is updated every week." Err, Terry, I do it every Monday morning as part of my routine! Was he really having to pick his brains so hard for a target that he couldn't scrape anything better than that? Because making sure a chart is updated is really going to improve my job satisfaction.

But for every insult, there's a compliment. I went into my last review fully expecting to be unjustly slated, but I got a lot of positive feedback. So positive, I felt quite humbled. Didn't exactly reduce me to tears, but it was very nice to know he does appreciate me - sometimes.

Tills Upgrade
The till system had an upgrade installed last night that has greatly improved the speed at which it operates. No more waiting 3-10 seconds for the cash drawer to flip open after the transaction is processed. No more waiting 10 seconds for the system to ready itself for the next customer. It's instantaneous now. As soon as you press a key, the system does what you asked it to.

There's been some other changes too. A lot of the menus have changed around or been tampered with so options can now be found in different places. This resulted in a lot of cashiers sitting scrolling through screen-after-screen, feeling like wallies, just trying to weigh a banana.

Never fear, we shall adapt to this shiny new way of doing things soon enough.

Monday, August 06, 2007

118 118 Staff

There's been stories in today's newspapers about a Facebook group set up by staff at 118 118 Directory Enquiries. The group allows staff to tell stories about awkward customers and vent their frustrations about working for the service.

Read it here (The Sun version)

When I read about some of the things that staff have posted on the site, I immediately thought about this blog. OK, so this blog doesn't reveal the company I work for (although regular readers probably have enough information to make a good guess) nor is it particularly critical of the company. In fact, I don't believe I've ever posted anything that would harm Food Place's reputation - either for the service it provides to its customers, or its merits as an employer. Most of the things I rant about reflect more about me and my colleagues than anything else. But I couldn't help but feel that my blog could actually be likened to the Facebook group for 118 118 employees.

And when they say things like: "I wrote a few a****** callers numbers on the walls of public toilets and pasted them on many an Internet site" - it's worrying that a blog like this could be viewed as similar.

Yes, I do rant about our customers. I've called some of them every name under the sun. And I can entirely sympathise with this comment from the 118 118 site: “People of Britain, re-discover the phonebook, you lazy b******s.” Yes, we all know they're the people who, ultimately, pay our wages. But that doesn't stop them getting on our nerves and I don't think it should take away our right to come online and have a screaming great rant about them.

It's not as though I've ever named a customer I've posted about. Given the anonymous nature of this blog, even their location isn't revealed. If I was posting copies of refund slips on this blog, giving out their details, then I would deserve to be sacked and banned from working in a shop ever again (oh, the delight!). But as it is, I don't. It's a bit of harmless steam-venting and, I hope, it provides a little bit of entertainment for anybody who happens to read it.

It's probable that if a Food Place customer ever stumbled across a blog entry that was actually written about them, they wouldn't even realise. We all see the things that go on around us from different points of view and my take on an encounter is nothing like that of the customer.

Having said all of that though, I wouldn't want to be lumped into the same category as a group of people who spoke of their customers with such outright contempt. Anything derogatory I say about customers is said entirely for comic effect. I don't really come home each night so full of bile that I need to post scathingly insulting messages on the Internet about people. When you consider that my Food Place serves between 20,500 and 22,000 customers each week and balance that against the tiny proportion of ones that I rant about on this blog, you can see how small the number of outright awkward customers there are.

For me, it's just a bit of fun. For a few members of the 118 118 group - they're clearly taking things too far.

The Sun article has some reactions from customers.

“This is bang out of order. I’ll never use their service again." and “It’s customer service at its worst. I won’t be surprised if callers hang up in droves.”

OK, I wouldn't be happy if I thought that call centre workers could paste my number on toilet walls if they didn't like my tone, but don't these people understand that staff are only humans? If you yell and scream at a call centre employee down the phone, with no provocation, then yes - they are going to go home and post nasty remarks about you on the Internet. Employees in the service sector are simply not paid enough money to take a professional stance and say "Oh, I say, that was a nasty gentleman," and think nothing more about it.

Just follow the golden rule. Be nice to shop staff, and they'll be nice to you. Be unnecessarily rude or aggressive, and you'll get everything you deserve. In 118 118's case, that means you can expect lots of prank phone calls. But, at Food Place, we'll stick with belittling you and making you look a clown on this blog. No offence.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Terry Rant

I'm a cash office supervisor. But Terry seems to think that makes me a supervisor of everything that general managers prefer to ignore. And, in his case, that means the entire Services department.

I'm sick to the back teeth of running an entire department single-handed with no managerial support. It wouldn't bother me so much if Terry didn't spend approximately 94% of his time nannying the grocery supervisors. He can't even trust them to pull in a delivery without his support. If they have a problem, he'd gladly spend hours on end trying to sort it out for them. But when it comes to a problem with checkouts or cash office or personnel or EPOS, we can sod off.

The finest example of this came today.

Last night there was a leaving party and most of the staff attended, myself included. A group of about six of us came home at midnight after three or four drinks because we all knew we were due in work early and didn't want to have a hangover. The rest stayed, got leathered and didn't roll home until about 6.00am.

So, naturally, two cashiers, one grocery assistant and the grocery supervisor (bloody Ed) failed to turn in for work. And what was Terry more concerned about? Needless to say, his beloved grocery department. But as for my checkouts being understaffed, he couldn't give a stuff.

So I spent an hour and a half serving between the kiosk and the checkouts when I should have been in the cash office. At one point I didn't have any prepared till floats ready for an arriving cashier and called Terry to fetch one from the cash office. He gave me the "what the hell am I paying you for?" look.

After I managed to get away from the tills I decided to update him on how short-staffed we were going to be in the last two hours of opening. He had the cheek to turn round and say: "we can't lend you anybody because we're short ourselves."

I was on the verge of entering into an almighty row. "We're short? Aren't you the general manager? Or have I missed something? Are you now the grocery manager and not responsible at all for Services?" I felt like thundering. I managed to hold back, briefly - it was the next comment that saw me slam the keys on his desk and stomp off on my break:

"I need you to do the section count for pet-foods since Ed's sick."

"You what? You want me to do Ed's job for him because he stayed out on the razz until 4 o'clock this morning and was too hungover to drag himself into work? What about me? I'm about an hour behind in the cash office because I've been sat on a till covering another two hangover-cases. It's ten to two anyways and I've been in since 9 without a break. I'm going on my dinner."

And off I stormed. Terry wasn't amused because he kept coming into the canteen and bothering me - it's a sign he's in a mood. He'd come in and announce things like: "the stamps are running low", "I can't find the keys for the supplies cupboard [that I've never set foot in nor taken any interest in ever]", "Is there a carrier bag order coming in because there's only two sleeves down there?"

By the time I came back from my break, however, he seemed to have mellowed and spent the rest of the day calling me mate and sucking up to me. He even kept coming to the cash office to see me, but didn't seem to have any particular reason for doing so. He'd just watch me for a few minutes in silence, before checking the sales figure and leaving again. But the ultimate act of sucking-up came at the end of the day. "Are you behind with refloating the tills? Because I can help if you like."

If he hadn't offered out of pure guilt, I might have collapsed and died at this unprecedented gesture. As it was I declined the help. If it's only on the menu as a peace-offering he can stick it. I'll cope alone.

But things had better change soon, or I'll go. I'm not one for making empty resignation threats - I normally sit down and talk to Terry about whatever is bothering me. But I've raised the lack of support and the grocery-worshipping issue with him countless times and nothing is done about it. He puts so much pressure onto whichever Services supervisor (me, Wendy or an acting-up-general-assistant) is on shift that we can't cope. Some days I'm expected to supervise the checkouts whilst I'm upstairs in the Training Room updating the training charts - unless I can learn to split myself in half, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. Yet Terry still wants the highest standard. He wants cashier bells answered immediately when he knows fine well I'm upstairs doing work he's thrown at me. He only peeks at our department about three times a day and every time, he wants to see perfection.

So today, as we were getting ready to leave, I said: "you'll either have to lower your expectations of how checkouts should run or give us a bit of help now and then."

I doubt I've got the message over though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Kiosk Annoyances

For non-UK readers, it occurred to me as I was forming this blog entry in my mind today, you might not know what a kiosk is - in supermarket terms.

It's the counter, usually near the main checkouts, with tills that sell, exclusively, cigarettes, tobacco and lottery tickets (or, at least, they're supposed to sell those things exclusively - people actually insist on paying for basket-fulls of groceries there too). When I went to the USA, a few years ago now, cigarettes seemed to be either available from certain sign-posted checkouts or just out on the shop floor with the other merchandise. I'm not sure about other countries though. Perhaps our tiny nation is alone in adding kiosks to supermarkets - just to annoy the staff.

When we got the new kiosk in May, I spent a lot of time on there. The slightest hint of a queue and I was right there, leaping onto one of the tills to help out. This was because I liked the shiny new-ness of it and, for some reason, this enhanced the experience of working on there. It was the same two weeks ago, when the whole kiosk was moved along several feet to get it away from the entrance. Just that slight move seemed to change the whole experience of working on it.

Of course, that's worn off now. All that I'm left with is the irritations and frustrations that come with manning this counter. Allow me to elaborate.


Kiosk customers will often ask the most stupid questions, make the most vague requests you could imagine, or give you too much information about what they want:
  • "What's the lightest cigarette you do?" Are you dumb? Do you really think it makes any difference?
  • "Twenty fags please." What am I? Psychic? I need to know which brand you want!
  • "Twenty Embassy Regal Kingsize please." Do you want Embassy or Regal? One's red, one's blue. Or do you want ten of each? Help me here!

Memory Games

And as if some of the demands they make aren't stupid enough, customers can also cause annoyance in the way they make their demands. Lots of naughty customers will approach you and say something like this:

"Could I have twenty Lamberts, ten Richmond Superkings, ten Regal Kingsize, five Hamlet cigars, three lucky dip lottery tickets for tonight, two lucky dips for Saturday - on separate tickets, one of them's for Aunt Belle - a Hotpicks three-numbers for tonight, a Lucky Donkey scratchcard - oh, and a lighter."

And I'm standing there, cross-eyed and thinking "que?". How on earth could anybody expect you to remember all of that twaddle?

But, worse still, there are the people who think you're incapable of taking more than one request at a time. It's much worse with lottery customers. They'll begin by giving you one play-slip which you then process for them. This involves taking the slip from them, walking to the lottery machine, and then walking back to till to add the lottery ticket to their bill. When you've done that, they hand you another slip. Repeat process. And another. Repeat process. Then they ask for a lucky dip ticket. Repeat process. Then they want a Thunderball. Repeat process. Then they ask for twenty Bensons. Walk over and get them, bring them back to scan onto the till. Then they ask for twenty Richmond. Repeat process.

I could, honestly, kill those people. I really could. Are they just trying to see how fast they can get me to move? Or whether they can make me dizzy?

Grocery Shopping

The kiosk is quite clearly not a checkout. There's no conveyor belt, no packing area and no scales. But that doesn't stop people thinking they can pay for anything they like there. "But I'd have to queue twice!" they protest if you tell them to pay for their shopping at the checkouts and then get their lottery tickets. I always feel like saying: "Oh, so you'd also like to pay at the deli counter to avoid queuing again?" Bugger off.

I have no objection to somebody with a small basket of items paying at the kiosk at quieter times. They want lottery or ciggies so it makes sense to pay in one go at one till. But lugging a basket crammed with 50 items through the kiosk at peak lottery times is not a good idea. For a start, it's not fair on the people who do it properly and pay for their shopping at the checkouts then join the kiosk queue for whatever else they need. There's nothing worse than waiting for ages behind somebody who's paying for far too much on tills they shouldn't be using.

But since Food Place has forbidden us to turn baskets away from the kiosk or put 10-items signs up, there's not a lot we can do about it apart from politely remind people not to do it. And get our head's bitten off for doing so.

Back to Lottery

Why can't people fill out slips properly? It's simple. You mark the draw you're entering, and mark the numbers you wish to play. If you can't decide on numbers, mark the 'lucky dip' box and the machine will pick for you. If you want more than one line of numbers, simply complete another box.

But it's all too complicated for some. About half of the slips you're handed and place into the machine will be spat back out. People don't fill in enough numbers, they don't mark the relevant boxes to opt-out of additional games, they mark too many numbers. It's really not that bloody difficult!

And then you get people who hand you slips that look like they've been eaten and vomited back up. How the hell do they expect the machine to process it? Damp, full of creases, coffee stains. Dear oh dear. Customers will sometimes make their own alterations to their play-slips. For example, last year the UK lottery operator made the play-slips for all games longer - meaning they didn't fit into the little plastic wallets that some people keep them in. No bother! They just cut the tops off them! For God's sake, it's a machine! It only recognises what it's programmed to recognise!

Some don't even bother with play-slips. We have a growing number of regular customers who, week-in, week-out, can't be arsed to fill out a slip, instead choosing to come to the counter and rhyme-off the numbers they want for you to enter manually into the machine. Can't you see there are people waiting? I haven't got time to prat about waiting on you hand and foot!

And finally...

Don't dare ask for anything from the top shelf. I'm five-foot-naught and can't reach without standing on the bottom shelf and smacking my head off the top shelf in the process!